Have a plan in place to resolve issues.
In the life cycle of any project, there will almost always be unexpected problems and questions that crop up. When these issues arise, you have to be ready to deal with them – or they can potentially affect the project's outcome.
Since most issues are, by their nature, unexpected, how do you make sure you'll be able to deal with them quickly and effectively? Ideally, you need an issue resolution process in place before you start your project – to make sure that you stay on schedule, and meet your objectives.
Issue management is the process of identifying and resolving issues. Problems with staff or suppliers, technical failures, material shortages – these might all have a negative impact on your project. If the issue goes unresolved, you risk creating unnecessary conflicts, delays, or even failure to produce your deliverable.
Issues and risks are not quite the same thing. However, the exact nature of both is largely unknown before you begin. With risks, you usually have a general idea in advance that there's a cause for concern. An issue tends to be less predictable; it can arise with no warning. For example, being unable to find qualified staff is an identifiable risk. However, when one of your staff is in a car accident, and hospitalized for three weeks, that becomes an issue!
It's important to identify risks before the project begins. A Risk/Impact Probability Chart provides a useful framework to help you prioritize your risks. You can then develop a plan to manage those risks proactively with solutions that you've already thought through and prearranged. However, when it comes to issues, you have to deal with them as they happen. Issue management, therefore, is a planned process for dealing with an unexpected issue – whatever that issue may be – if and when one arises.
When you don't identify and reduce risks at the beginning of a project, they can often become issues later on. Make sure you understand your risks early. Learn from previous projects, and benefit from the team's past experiences. This way, you'll have fewer issues to manage as you move forward.
Issues – otherwise known as problems, gaps, inconsistencies, or conflicts – need to be recorded when they happen. When you create an issues log*, you provide a tool for reporting and communicating what's happening with the project. This makes sure that issues are indeed raised, and then investigated and resolved quickly and effectively. Without a defined process, you risk ignoring issues, or not taking them seriously enough – until it's too late to deal with them successfully.
An issues log allows you to do the following:
You can create an issues log by hand, build your own spreadsheet or database, or buy issue management software from a wide variety of vendors. Alternatively, you can use our free Issue Management Log template.
However, do bear in mind that the success of your issue management process doesn't necessarily depend on which tracking mechanism you use, but rather on the type of information you track.
You can include following information in an issues log:
If a date for resolution changes, keep both the old date and the new date visible. This helps you spot issues that have been on the log for a long time. Then you can either give them extra attention, or take them off the list if they're no longer important.
Use 'traffic lights' when reporting issues. This provides an easy-to-see indication of whether issues are under control. Traffic lights could be used as follows:
Supplement your issues log with a framework, or process, for dealing with those issues. This framework helps the project team understand what to do with issues once they've been identified and logged. Developing the framework answers questions like these:
One of the key challenges of issues management is to resolve the problem quickly and then move on, with as little impact to the project as possible. The framework provides a structure for making decisions when issues arise. Remember to consider your team's needs as you develop the framework.
It's also important to make sure you cover all issues in your Post-Implementation Review . This is where you capture lessons learned for future projects. The more you learn about your issues, the better prepared you'll be for the next project. Some issues might occur again, so by recording what you've learned from previous projects, it will be easier for subsequent project teams to identify the issues, and resolve them successfully. Other issues might be part of a risk pattern that you can proactively identify and manage with early risk assessment.
An issues management process gives you a robust way of identifying and documenting issues and problems that occur during a project. The process also makes it easier to evaluate these issues, assess their impact, and decide on a plan for resolution. An issues log helps you capture the details of each issue, so that the project team can quickly see the status, and who is responsible for resolving it. When you add an issues management framework, you have a comprehensive plan to deal with issues quickly and effectively. This organized approach to managing issues provides many valuable insights that can be used to refine and improve future project results.
* Originator unknown. Please let us know if you know who the originator is.
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